Thursday, December 27, 2007

2008 Financial Meltdown Imminent?

As 2007 comes to a close, I can't help wondering what 2008 has in store for us all from an economic standpoint. Should I make a 2008 economy prediction now? Sure, why not,... the "experts" seem to make plenty of forecasts, prognostications, best-guesses, predictions, or whatever else you may want to call them, so I will release my 2008 Financial Meltdown Prediction now.

The way I see it, the only thing that could prevent a mass collapse of our existing financial system at this point is (as nearly always is the case) a large-scale intervention by the Federal Reserve / Government to create yet another "bubble" in yet another sector of the economy with hopes of a newly inflating bubble saving us from one that is currently popping (i.e., the housing bubble). You wait, and watch, and you will see I am right. It is going to take something large (hopefully not a massive war) to seriously change my forecast.

Some things that point to an imminent and impending financial / economic collapse:
  • In general, the house of cards (debt-masked artificial "growth" and GDP) known as our "economy" is finally nearing a tipping point. Remove consumer-debt-financed "growth" and government deficit-spending from the equation, and I posit that there is ZERO true economic growth (negative in fact; as it has been for years, though heavily disguised).
  • The fact that basically nothing is made here anymore is partly to blame for things. All our money is flowing outward, and at a record pace.
  • Year-over-year real-estate numbers. These are down about 7% nationwide, which results in over $1-Trillion in lost "equity" / paper-value of all homes in the USA. This was a historical record correction, and, I think we are only at the cusp of what is to come.
  • Credit-card late-payments are up FIFTY PERCENT yr-over-yr. People are right on the edge of total collapse. Complete delinquencies are also soaring - accounts that have no hope of ever being paid back.
  • Large companies are showing signs of desperation, borrowing massive amounts of cash from (and losing equity to) foreign investors (like Citigroup's $7.5BillionMiddle-East Abu-Dabi bailout deal, Merrill Lynch's $6.2BB bailout by a Singapore-owned state investment firm, Morgan Stanley selling a 9.9% stake to the Chinese government for emergency financing / bail-out... the list goes on!
  • Rising unemployment, which, mark my words, is going to really take off in early 2008. I would bet a substantial sum that massive, widespread corporate layoffs are going to emerge early in 2008 just after the holidays. This seems to be the only way companies can ever come up with to "increase profitability", since management can not otherwise figure out how to differentiate their business from a competitor's and gain market share or improve products and services to increase profits. And, if there is work that still needs done, don't worry -- they'll just use foreign labor and outsource even more than already.
  • Our "volatile food and energy" inflation is out of control, primarily due to competition for food sources from energy concerns (i.e., ethanol production). It's bad enough energy prices are hitting people's wallets, but it takes pure insanity for a country to compete with its food resources to make fuel (regardless of how much farmers may currently be enjoying this windfall). Don't think it is just corn that is going up. Wheat is up 50%+ in the past year, as are many commodities. And, this has hit grocery bills hard, further pinching the consumer.
What has lead to this?
Housing was a bubble created to bail us out of the technology stocks speculation / bubble before it. People seemed to overwhelmingly believe that, once again, a certain sector of the economy could turn in "growth" indicators month after month, year after year, that were so completely out of line with overall long-term GDP growth that it should have been obvious there was a speculative bubble in motion again. But, even the "experts" (which there seems to be no shortage of), continually preached how this was "different" and sustainable, and so on, spewing forth (abused) statistics to back their opinion of why housing was such a great investment.

Contrary to all the analysis and observations by mainstream "economists", I think there is a very simple method for detecting such over-speculation, hype, "froth" (a Greenspan term), lunacy (my term), and so on when it comes to sectors of the economy / market being on fire. Do you want to know how to detect a bubble, and do so in time to avoid getting caught in a downturn like the one we are currently seeing with housing?

Spotting Bubbles Early...
One way I suggest to get advance insight into the formation, expansion, and impending collapse of "bubbles" is to look at Google-Ads (and other online ad mechanisms) to spot market "hot spots". What am I talking about? Well, any time there is the lure of easy money through speculation, and likely areas of exploitation (and even fraud), like some of the business practices that were driving the housing bubble, you will see over enthusiasm and willingness for individuals and companies to pay a very high per-click price for keyword-specific online advertising.

When I heard from a friend a couple years ago who claimed he was making (his cut) as much as $5, $10, or even $20 per CLICK on website ads for mortgage refinancing, home sales, etc., I knew the market was ready to implode! Those rates would imply that people were spending perhaps as much as $50/click to show an ad on websites! The only reason anyone would be willing to spend such amounts on a gamble that the person clicking would then perhaps actually buy their service / product, is if there was some extremely lucrative opportunity to exploit a short-term bubble and cash-in on the craze that was sweeping the country (adjustable rate loans, no-money-down mortgages, and so on). Their was so much profit potential to be had be selling these "financial vehicles" that people were willing to essentially gamble with Google Ads and the like just to get people to their websites.

I had some money in Nuveen Real Estate Income Fund (Public, AMEX:JRS) ETF at the time, and as soon as I started looking into these insane per-click prices, and read all about the rate of supposed per-day house-price increases in places like Orange County, CA (yep, per day -- I read articles about houses going up faster than what a person could make working in a day), I knew it was time to get out. And, I did. I sold before that particular real estate stock fund peaked, but also before it fell nearly 50% to it's current price. I am quite glad I ditched out in time!

What about Economists and their Forecasts?
This leads me to why I consider most economists useless, since as a group, they are nearly always led down the same path as the rest of the population and are nothing more than reactionary. Sure, a select few saw the bubble for what it was, but somehow market analysts, economists, forecasters, and the like as a whole didn't see the bubble for what it was (or, if they did, they were not the ones getting any air-time on TV). They are reactionary in general, and rarely seem to spot useful trends in time.

This continues now. Today I saw this Dow Jones Reuters report, and excerpt which I quote here:
Total applications for U.S. jobless benefits unexpectedly rose by 1,000 last week, while the number of longer-term unemployed rose to its highest in more than two years, the government said on Thursday.
What immediately gets me is the single word: UNEXPECTEDLY. These economists are out of touch. Who, in their right mind, would not expect unemployment to rise when the housing market is imploding, corporate credit-issues abound, the consumer is tapped-out as a whole, and so on?

Given this level of mainstream economists' ability (to forecast), I don't have much confidence in their ability to see how bad things truly are right now. Or, do they all see it and are just not allowed to say it in the public forum? Sure, there are a few small signs of hope within the economy, but I don't think they outweigh the multitude of issues facing our financial system right now.

Presidential Election 2008
Answer this question: why does anyone want to be President in 2008, and inherit this economic catastrophe-waiting-to-happen? Surely whoever is elected will have to deal with a general economic downturn in 2008, a continued weak housing market (if not downright terrible one), a banking system in distress, and more. I go back to my general line of thinking, which is, there must be some really lucrative and long-lasting benefits to being President for someone to want that position badly enough to spend millions to get it. Reminds me of the insane per-click price for advertisements I mentioned earlier.

People definitely expect to get back a LOT more than they put in, whether those people are the candidates or the people (and companies) backing them. How does this fit into my blog today? Well, I ultimately blame this type of behavior for the looming economic crisis we're facing now. Short-term profit motivation is outweighing common-sense, and the consequences of the quick-money mentality are going to catch up to us all.

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